This week on ArtEvolve, we discussed the materials used for exhibitions and other art world events, taking a closer look at how sustainable they really are.
Our guests were Maria Garcia, CEO of BindEthics and inventor of a sustainable, biodegradable adhesive, and Kim Kraczon, a conservator specializing in sustainable solutions for cultural heritage, Advisor at Gallery Climate Coalition, and Director of Materials at Ki Culture.
How sustainable are the materials currently used?
- Often single-use
- Where do they come from?
- How are they disposed of?
Plastic protective coverings and their non-plastic alternatives
We’re all familiar with materials commonly used during exhibitions and art fairs, such as bubble wrap, foam corners, tiebacks, and other coverings and packaging. How much do we know, however, about where raw materials are sourced? How transparent are supply chains? Are we making assumptions about terms like compostable and recyclable? Most soft plastics, for example, are not easily recyclable via curbside methods and require specialist recycling facilities.
Considering the ecological footprint of any product or material is complex and we can’t just rely on what we’re told from suppliers as the whole story. Biodegradable plastics are often said to be sustainable but are made from fossil fuels, create microplastics as they break down, and contaminate recycling streams.
Are all wooden frames, pallets, and crates recyclable?
Organizations looking to make more sustainable choices need to both be aware of greenwashing and start to consider materials and their ecological footprints in a more holistic way.
The art world uses wood products in many forms such as frames, pallets, crates, etc and it’s often assumed all wood is recyclable in the same way. As Maria shared with us though, 90% of engineered wood uses formaldehyde-based (UF) adhesives, which are not only toxic but also make the end wood product non-recyclable.
BindEthic’s bio-adhesives are derived from food waste and have a carbon footprint 80% lower than formaldehyde-based adhesives. They are non-toxic and biodegradable, and different formulations can be created depending on how the wood is to be disposed of (e.g. if the product doesn’t need to be water resistant, a soluble adhesive will dissolve in about a week).
Inventors of sustainable solutions may find it a challenge to bring them to market as manufacturers are resistant to change, especially if consumers are not aware of new products and technologies. We’d encourage anyone interested in trying out wood products made with bio-adhesive to contact firstname.lastname@example.org to find out more.
What other materials might we see more of in the future?
- Cellulose foam – as we reassess plastic packaging, expect to see non-fossil-fuel-based alternatives, such as Papira, a lightweight and shock-absorbing cellulose foam. Kim spoke about how this is being tested in the art industry right now.
- Honeycomb paper – a biodegradable alternative to plastic bubble wrap. The compact structure requires less resources to create, store, and transport, and expands when in use to protect objects.